December 27, 2008
This article is not directly relevant, except that it reveals that the Parthenon Sculptures were one of the search terms monitored by the government. This shows that despite statements that it is entirely the responsibility of the British Museum, the government still feels that they also need to monitor the issue – meaning that it is on their radar if nothing else.
Government spends £16 million on spin
More than £16 million of taxpayers’ cash was spent in the last three years on keeping track of news items relating to the work of Government departments and quangos.
By Rosa Prince, Political Correspondent
Last Updated: 12:43AM GMT 24 Dec 2008
The Conservatives accused Gordon Brown and his ministers of being obsessed with spin, after new figures revealed the scale of the budget for “media monitoring”.
Statistics obtained by the party in a series of Parliamentary answers show that Whitehall departments and taxpayer-funded quangos and agencies have paid private consultancies at least £13 million to monitor news coverage since 2005.
In addition, the Government has its own internal Media Monitoring department with 19 members of staff, which costs another £1 million a year to run.
The figures show that the Treasury was the department most eager to keep up with the news about itself, spending £1.5 million to employ the services of four companies to monitor newspapers for snippets about its policies.
It was followed by the departments for Transport, Communities and Business, which each spent nearly a million.
Media monitoring companies work by keeping track of articles containing key words requested by the client.
In the Government’s case, search terms used in the last three years include the words “lap dancing”, “cowboy builders”, “gypsies”, “chlamydia”, and “teeth”.
The Conservatives said that the true amount of Government spending on media monitoring would inevitably exceed the £16 million figure because two of the largest departments, Work and Pensions and Health, refused to supply data on the grounds of commercial sensitivity.
Jeremy Hunt, the shadow culture secretary, criticised Gordon Brown and his ministers for spending so much money on spin.
He said: “This is a colossal waste of money and taxpayers will be furious that when everyone else is tightening their belts the last thing to get cut is the Government’s own PR.”
Asked in Parliament recently why taxpayers’ money was being spent on newspaper monitoring, Michael Willis, the Justice Minister, said that the work was necessary: “to ensure Government policy is reported accurately and inaccuracies are rebutted”.
In the last three years, Whitehall departments have spent more than £11 million on outside media monitoring companies, including £2.7 million in the last financial year alone.
Quangos and agencies including the National Archives, Land Registry, Big Lottery Fund and the Equality and Human Rights Commission spent another £2.7 million.
As well as search terms such as “the Parthenon Sculptures,” “football hooliganism” and “explosions,” some firms were asked to keep an eye out for references to ministers in diary and gossip columns.
The Department for Communities and Local Government spent more than £800,000 monitoring the media for terms including “London 2012”, “terrorism”, “the US Department for Homeland Security”, and “Haringey Social Services”.
Firms working for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport were asked to check terms such as “films on the internet,” and “poet laureate” at an overall cost of £100,000.
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